An incredibly captivating, thoroughly entertaining & downright unnerving documentary that deconstructs the inner-working of the Church of Scientology, Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief is an in-depth look at its history, its rise from a cult organisation to new religious movement, its belief system, the role of celebrities who are part of it, and its long-standing allegations of psychological abuse & exploitation that occur within the church.
Using archive footages & interviews from former Scientologists who describe their very own experiences when they were part of it, the story of Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief is told in three segments. The first part follows these ex-members as they recount how they came across it. The second gives a brief overview of Scientology and also skims through the life of its founder, L. Ron Hubbard. And the final act brings forth the dark stuff & ruthless measures the church takes to silence any criticism.
Written & directed by Alex Gibney, Going Clear is riveting from the first frame to the last and only gets more unsettling as the plot progresses. While it inclines more towards uncovering the disturbing secrets of this new religion that still remains shrouded in mystery, it also says a lot about the absurdity & dangers of blind faith, as evident in every religion, and illustrates how people are manipulated into joining these belief systems that promises a solution to all their problems but soon begins to strangle them with its entrapment.
Although what it offers is clearly a one-sided perspective, it looks as if it’s got enough data to support its claims against the Church of Scientology. Almost every argument it puts forth feels like a result of endless research & extensive investigation and the various accusations made by its interviewees, comprising mostly of former members of the church, gives those existing rumours an added weight. While it certainly sheds more light on things that usually don’t get to see the light of day, much of it can still be applied to every religion in existence.
However, what makes Going Clear such an intriguing sit isn’t the content it has in store but how all of it is presented to the unsuspecting & curious audience. It’s informative, in a way, to people who aren’t much familiar with this new religious movement but it’s also one damn good entertainment, something only few documentaries ever manage to excel at. The story also addresses the roles famous celebrities like John Travolta & Tom Cruise have played in promoting the religion and the special treatment the church bestows them with in order to keep them around.
From a technical standpoint, there isn’t really anything to complain about this documentary. It’s crafted with a razor-sharp intent, seems to have done all the background check before making its accusations, the re-enactment sequences may seem a bit exaggerated but then, it is as per the ex-members’ confessions, more or less. Its three segment narrative gives it a more refined & easy-to-follow structure, Editing is definitely one of its biggest strengths and the interviews with these former Scientologists is wholly engrossing. And much of it is made possible by Gibney’s impeccable direction.
On an overall scale, Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief is a masterly crafted, cleverly assembled & ingeniously narrated film about one of the most controversial topics in the present world. As revelatory as it is enthralling, this picture has the charged intensity of a thriller and considering the Church of Scientology’s notoriety for filing lawsuits against its critics, it’s truly a bold piece of documentary filmmaking that does exactly what it set out to do plus the blatant criticism it received from the church prior to its release only helped in providing it the publicity it required. A powerful, discomforting & spellbinding exposé, Going Clear comes essentially recommended.